Weyerhaeuser to expand fee access program

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Starting this summer, hunters, horseback riders and hikers will have to pay to get onto much of Weyerhaeuser Co.’s St. Helens Tree Farm and the company’s land near the coast.

Weyerhaeuser is expanding a fee system it started in Lewis County last year to its 420,000 acres in the Longview area and its holdings east of Aberdeen.

An advantage for hunters is that they’ll be able to get onto Weyerhaeuser land every day the permit is valid. In the past much of the land was open for motorized access only on weekends during major deer and elk seasons. But the cost of such access will range from $150 per family and up.

The fee access program is the latest development in gradual restrictions on public access to private timberlands in the region.

Weyerhaeuser spokesman Anthony Chavez said the pilot project in the Pe Ell and Vail tree farms in Lewis County last year was a success from Weyerhaeuser’s perspective.

“Not only did the permits sell out the first day, we’ve heard from folks they’ve enjoyed the experience,” he said, because fewer people were in the field.

According to Chavez, the company also witnessed a decline in vandalism and garbage dumping that have lead to most private timber companies in the Northwest restricting access in the past decade.

“This is new to the Northwest,” Chavez said. “We’ve been doing this in the Southeast for years.”

Cowlitz County Commissioner Jim Misner said the new Weyerhaeuser policy “appears to be really poor timing,” considering the spread of elk hoof disease.

Misner is a member of a group of officials meeting regularly to discuss the condition that is causing many elk in the region to limp painfully. Some local elk are undernourished because of hoof rot, making them less attractive to hunters, he said. In recent meetings, hunters have said last year’s elk season was one of the worst they’ve experienced, Misner said, so they may not be inclined to pay an access fee.

“I’m not totally opposed to it,” he said. “When I go out I can’t stand how much garbage is left in the woods.”

The company will continue its policy of allowing the public to drive without a permit over Weyerhaeuser roads that provide the only access to public lands.

Chavez said the permits should be available starting May 19 via an online system at WY.com/accessWA.

In the Longview area, Weyerhaeuser will offer three types of access:

Leases: Twelve areas ranging in size from 550 to 2,100 acres will be up for lease through an online bidding system. The high bidder will get access to the lease area for a year starting Aug. 1, with overnight camping allowed.

Individual permits: Weyerhaeuser will open up 340,000 acres to holders of $150 permits. A permit will be valid for the holder, his or her spouse, their children and grandchildren. With 15,000 permits available, anyone who wants one should be able to get one, unlike some other companies that offer far fewer permits. The permits will be valid from Aug. 1 through Jan. 31, 2015. No overnight camping or firewood gathering will be allowed under these permits. Permits will be required for motorized and walk-in access.

Free access: There will be no charge to enter about 55,000 acres, generally near Yacolt and Ryderwood and the Mosquito Creek area west of Longview.